Tips for Returning to a Family Routine

Back to School with books and an apple

Family routines are everything our current COVID-19 times are not: consistent, predictable and reassuring.

While you may not consider yourself a “creature of habit,” you’ve likely hoped for a sense of normalcy to return to daily life. But for everything you’re feeling, your children are likely suffering more significant effects.

Learn how routines can help

Our children are in a constant state of development as they grow. New information and experiences shape and re-shape how they see the world — even before coronavirus came our way. Familiar routines can help kids find stability and a sense of security in good and bad times.

Research shows family routines can support essential building blocks for kids, including better sleep, improved resilience during times of crisis and success at school and in social situations.

Know where to start

Where to start depends on your family’s needs. Play back your last few days and think about any stressful situations that developed. Was it getting your kids out the door in the morning? Putting dinner on the table? Getting everyone to bed? Chances are, you’ll notice patterns, and developing routines that address your family’s stressors can bring calm to critical transition times, such as:

  • Before school
  • After school
  • Bedtime
  • Weekends

Start small. Setting little “constants,” like doing homework every night right after dinner, reading a book together before “lights out” or remembering to lay out school clothes, may be just what your family needs.

Around mealtimes, you might try:

Family scheduling. If you’re answering daily questions about when things are happening or always rushing to find a soccer jersey, library book or birthday present, established routines make it easier to stay on the same page. Put a family calendar where your kids can see it and check it together daily, preferably at the same time every day. Knowing what to expect can be comforting to your kids and avoid confusion.

Meal planning. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to feed your family every day. We suggest writing down  three to five wholesome meals and making them every week until you can serve them with your eyes closed. These will be your go-to meals on weeks when you get busy. To simplify your meal schedule (and resist buying not-so-healthy or more expensive take-out options regularly), you might:

  • Batch cook and freeze grab-and-go family favorites, like sausage-and-egg breakfast sandwiches or black bean burritos.
  • Prep kids’ lunches the night before, or wash and cut up fruits and veggies for them to find easily.
  • Try recurring weekly meals, such as Taco Tuesdays, Pizza Fridays or Soup on Sundays.

Plan for periods of high stress

When your family is especially busy or you’re dealing with stressful events — like COVID, a life transition or illness in the family — it can be easy to let things slide around the house. But quick daily routines can help you feel in control. They can also help keep your home running smoothly and mean you won’t have to face a mountain of household tasks at once later. You might try:

  • Cleaning up dishes after every meal
  • Getting up a half-hour earlier in the morning
  • Running a load of laundry every day
  • Running the dishwasher every night

The great thing about routines is that once you’ve established them, you don’t have to think about them: they will become more automatic the more you do them.

Make time for special moments

It’s important to make sure you’re savoring the good stuff — the kind of everyday special moments that keep your family feeling connected. Once a week or month, you could consider scheduling:

  • A date with your partner. Having time scheduled on the calendar is an excellent reminder to take time for your relationship, even when things are hectic.
  • One-on-one time with each of your kids. You could let them pick a game to play or a park to visit together.

You don’t need to keep up with your routines perfectly for them to work. Aiming to hit them most of the time will be enough to have an impact. And if things fall off track, it’s never too late to start again. Start small — and just keep building from there. You’ve got this.

Jennifer Williams is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor